The On A Mission/OIFC fishing team of Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., including Chris Bryan, Taylor Henkel and Bailey Auten, finished second in the SKA Nationals last weekend in Ft. Pierce, Fla., thanks to this 51.67-pound king mackerel. Submitted photo
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
After the first day of fishing in the 2016 Mercury Southern Kingfish Association National Championship in Ft. Pierce, Fla., there was a clear-cut favorite.
The tournament featured two days of fishing on Nov. 11-12 out of Ft. Pierce City Marina, and a team from around that area, Team Tuppens/Garmin, weighed in a huge 62.33-pound king mackerel to smoke the rest of the field by almost 23 pounds, as Augy One’s 39.60-pounder held down second place.
Still, there was another day of fishing to go, as the Nationals featured a format of a two-day, two-fish aggregate to determine the 2016 national champion of king mackerel fishing.
“I thought it was going to be virtually impossible to beat that,” said Chris Bryan of Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., head of the On A Mission/OIFC fishing team. “In the back of my mind I knew the entire field was fishing for second place after they weighed the 62-pounder.”
As expected, Team Tuppens/Garmin, headed by Steve Sprague of West Palm Beach, Fla., went on to win the prestigious tournament, adding a 37.45-pounder to its first-day smoker to easily claim the championship with a 99.78-pound aggregate.
But, the intense battle for second place raged on last Saturday during the final day of fishing and On A Mission/OIFC was in the mix.
“After day one we were in 16th place,” Bryan said. “That wasn’t too far down the totem pole.”
Bryan and his two fishing partners – Bailey Auten of Ocean Isle Beach and Taylor Henkel of Belmont, N.C. – headed to the same spot south of Ft. Pierce where they caught a 22.55-pounder the previous day in the 34-foot Fountain powered by three Mercury 350s.
Soon after arriving at the spot, a live bottom area in 74 feet of water about three miles off Stuart, Fla., the trio caught three small kings in the 7-8 pound range, which they released.
At 10 a.m., they got a good bite on a blue runner on a downrigger.
“I picked up the rod and the fish ran offshore, which is a trait of those bigger fish,” Bryan recalled. “After that he just essentially swam along with the boat for about 40 minutes, staying under the boat out of our sight. We finally saw the flouro knot and the fish came out from underneath the bow. When we saw the knot we knew he was 12 feet away and was about to pop up.”
Auten manned a 12-foot gaff and nailed the fish on the first shot.
“Bailey stuck it, I reached down and grabbed the tail and we pulled him in the boat,” said Bryan. “There were a bunch of high fives, yelling and screaming.”
The fish measured 58 inches in length with a 24-inch girth.
At the weigh-in, the smoker king tipped the scales at 51.67 pounds, the second-biggest fish caught in the tournament. That left the trio with an aggregate of 74.22 pounds, good for second place among 113 boats in the championship tournament.
“We were real excited,” said Bryan, the real estate sales manager at Coldwell Banker Sloane Realty in Ocean Isle Beach. “It’s a very surreal experience to finish second amongst that level of competition. The camaraderie at the SKA National Championships is second to none. I’ve forged relationships with fishing teams throughout the Southeastern U.S. that have turned into lifelong friendships.”
Bryan has been fishing in the SKA since he was a 19-year-old in 1994, first competing in the SKA Nationals in 1999, also in Ft. Pierce. Bryan has qualified for each SKA Nationals event since 2003, and his best finish was eighth-place a year ago when the tournament was held in his backyard, in Morehead City, N.C.
Rounding out the top five were Raymarine/Strike Two with a 64.71-pound aggregate, Spiced Rum III with 59.85 pounds and Auggy One with 57.54 pounds.
The McMullan crew of Ocean Isle Fishing Center, including Brant, Barrett, Amy, Rube, Caroline and Brayden McMullan, finished 11th with a 47.72-pound aggregate.
Blondie, a 26-foot Yellowfin, won the Small Boat Class with a 51.36-pound aggregate while G-Force, a 25-
foot Bluewater, won the Single Engine Class with 52.11 pounds.
SKA Hall Of Fame
One angler was inducted into the SKA Hall of Fame during the week of events at the Nationals in Ft. Pierce – Capt. Joe Winslow of Sunset Beach.
Winslow is a professor of instructional technology at Coastal Carolina University and calls on current and alumni members of CCU’s Saltwater Angler Club to make up his crew aboard Hooligan, a 34-foot Yellowfin, in SKA events.
Hooligan and his CCU fishing team won SKA Division 9 this year, setting a division record of 110 points, the aggregate weight for the crew’s top three kings weighed in during the season.
Winslow has won nine SKA Division titles over the years.
“Joe Winslow is an outstanding fisherman and mentor who is very knowledgeable and has achieved so much in his career,” said CCU student James Coleman, President of the CCU Saltwater Angler Club. “Myself and others can always count on Joe for guidance, fishing-related or not, and he is always honest and kind.”
No Pitty weighed in a 66.74-pound wahoo on Oct. 18 to win Martini’s Hook-A-Hoo Rodeo over a field of 49 boats.
Boats were able to fish one out of 28 days in the tournament, from Oct. 8 through Nov. 5 and were able to weigh in fish at any of seven weigh-in stations in South and North Carolina, from North Myrtle Beach to Atlantic Beach, N.C.
Bluewater Express finished second with a 64.45-pounder and Game Hawg third with a 63.41-pounder.
Captivation caught the largest tuna, a 30.2-pound blackfin, while No Pitty weighed in the largest dolphin, an 11.62-pounder.
The tournament was founded in 2007 by fishing buddies Jeff Martini and Ace Parker in order to annually donate to the Shriners Hospitals for Children. This year’s event raised $7,000 for the organization.
The second Student Angler League Tournament Trail (SALTT) event of the school year was held last Saturday in cool and windy conditions out of the Campbell Marine Complex on the Sampit River.
Andrews’ Noah Payne and Kadyn Kellahan won the redfish division with a two-fish aggregate of 8.41 pounds, with Kellahan catching the big fish, a 4.36-pounder.
Conway’s Blake Thompson claimed first place in the bass division, weighing in five fish for a winning aggregate of 13.45 pounds including the big fish of 3.49 pounds.
Georgetown’s Shawn Benton and Logan Benton were second in the bass division with 11.88 pounds. Andrew’s Caleb Thornell and Brandon Porter were third with 9.02 pounds.
The next SALTT event will be held Feb. 11, 2016, also at the Campbell Marine Complex.